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I’m hoping to do some blogging this weekend but, in the meantime, three items for the fourth of July.

First, Gretchen Peters at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser performing her song, “Independence Day” and talking about what it means to her. The person Gretchen Peters is both a little odd, it’s clearly a slightly awkward setting, but I think her introduction to the song is nice.

Second two songs about, uh, explosions, if you will forgive the entendre.

Eilen Jewell singing “Bang Bang Bang.” It’s a short song, just under two minutes long, but clearly a great performance piece. I discovered her when I was looking for female performers for my Country mix. I ended up using one of her Loretta Lynn covers, but this was also one of my favorite songs that I found during that process.

Finally, Nick Lowe’s sensitive cover of Elvis Costello’s, “Indoor Fireworks.” This is also a relatively new find; last fall I was listening to more Nick Lowe and it got me to look at his catalog again. The Allmusic review of The Rose Of England mentioned that track as a standout and I went looking for it. As it turned out that ended up leading me to make one of my favorite musical discoveries of 2011 but that’s a story for another time . . . hopefully this weekend.

Apologies again for the lack of posting. I got really busy starting last July, and it’s only now starting to slow down (and I’m just starting to catch up). But, for my loyal readers, I do have something new to share. A new mix of county singer/songwriters, that I’m quite excited about. Extended thoughts below the fold but I’m definitely curious to know what people make of it. A lot of this music is new to me, I’ve spent the last couple of weeks listening to a bunch new music to work on this, and I’m happy with how it turned out:

Unconventional Country:
1: Walkin’ — Willie Nelson
2: Honkey Tonk Girl — Eilen Jewell (by Loretta Lynn)
3: Saint Anthony With The Broken Hands — Katy Moffatt
4: Hard On Equipment (tool for the job) — Corb Lund
5: West Texas Waltz — Butch Hancock
6: Burning The Toast For You — Suzy Bogguss (by April Barrows)
7: Wander — Paul Burch
8: Listen To The Radio — Kathy Mattea (by Nanci Griffith)
9: Anyhow, I Love You — Lyle Lovett (by Guy Clark)
10: Please — Mary Gauthier
11: Glasgow Girl — Rodney Crowell
12: Six Nights A Week — Peter Case (by Chris Gaffney)
13: Gimme A Ride To Heaven, Boy — Terry Allen
14: Mystery Train Part II — Steve Earle
15: Out In The Parking Lot — Guy Clark
16: Sittin’ Still — Andrew Jacob Holm
17: Boxcars — Joe Ely (by Butch Hancock)

Read the rest of this entry »

I’m back. Hopefully I can start posting semi-regularly again. To warm up I thought I’d start with something simple, fun, and self-explanatory. Here is a song that I’ve wanted to post and/or include on a mix CD several times but has just missed the cut. Hamell On Trial’s song about, one of the problems that can arise trying to date as an adult, the nature of which is obvious from the title: “I Hate Your Kid

(track is from a live CD and, includes the introduction to the following song, but I don’t think it’s too confusing.

Happy new year everybody.

For example, Teddy Thompson covering “Super Trooper.” It’s a great performance.

(As some context, if you aren’t familiar with Teddy Thompson, I found this while looking for his fantastic, dark, performance on the Jools Holland show).

Brad DeLong links to an amazing performance by Rosanne Cash.

Listening to it I feel like the tune is just settling into my my bones.

I can’t exactly recommend the movie, but it’s basically well done, and reminded me of a number of interesting things about the Runaways.

  1. They were genuinely good. Limited, in various ways, but good.
  2. They were young. There area number of musicians who became famous relatively young who did so in their early 20s. Paul Westerberg was 21 when the Replacements released their first album. Joan Jett was 17 (or 18 if the album was released in Nov or Dec)!
  3. To give another sense of how young they were, the movie starts in 1975, not that far removed from when I was born, and feels very much like a period piece. Joan Jett is 51 years old at the moment.
  4. Joan Jett really is one of the coolest people around. I would recommend just watching the movie with the commentary track, so that you can hear Joan Jett talk, but I can’t say that for sure since I ended up deciding to watch the whole movie again.
  5. Dakota Fanning was good. Kristen Stewart honestly wasn’t bad.
  6. I had forgotten that there were actually two members of the band who have had music careers that continue to the present. You wouldn’t learn that from the movie, however, since it focuses on Jett and Currie (in part, I think, because Lita Ford didn’t agree to sell the rights to her story)

Oops

It looks like the site got switched to require login for commenting. I’m not sure what “upgrade” triggered that, but I’ve switched it back so that log in isn’t required.

Also, since I’ve been thinking that I should be posting something, even if I don’t have time to write up a long description, here is Blondie live from 1999.

I like that line, “If you forgive me my ferocity, I won’t forget your sweetness.”

As many of you know, I’m a big fan of David Bowie but, unusually, I generally like his studio work as well or better than the live recordings. I usually think that a good live performance has an immediacy that’s hard to replicate in the studio, but the same traits that make David Bowie exceptional also make his live records less revealing. I’m apparently not the only one who thinks this. By my count he’s released 25 studio albums and 4 live recordings, despite touring regularly.

He’s very actorly as a singer, and has a generally analytical approach; he isn’t spontaneous. The pleasure of an album like Ziggy Stardust is the close attention to detail and the sheer density of creative ideas. He’s adjusting his phrasing and emotional pitch on every line, and sometimes on individual words. It’s wonderfully crafted but in it’s very attention to craft it doesn’t leave much room for improvisation, so the live versions tend to be very close to the originals.

With that background I was impressed by this duet between David Bowie and Gail Ann Dorsey on “Under Pressure”.

I hadn’t heard of Gail Ann Dorsey before but, according to wikipedia she’s been the base player for Bowie’s touring band since 1995. That would mean that they’d been working together for about a year at the point of that performance, which makes their evident comfort with each other even more impressive.

That comfort was the first thing that I noticed. They both seem to be genuinely enjoying themselves and appreciating the moment of singing the song together. The second thing that interested me was the way in which Gail Ann Dorsey, broadly speaking, is the yang to David Bowie’s yin. She is careful, and respectful of being a guest on the song, but also emotional, in-the-moment, and willing to push the song for the live performance. While David Bowie is controlled and disciplined. Considering Bowie’s greater stature, it’s impressive that the performance ends up feeling like a collaboration of equals.

It’s really a good performance.

I also think there’s an interesting contrast with several of the other videos of them performing the same song together which are just not quite as good.

Consider this from a year later — note that the sound quality is better, but much quieter, so you’ll have to turn up the volume quite a bit from the previous video to have a fair comparison.

That performance feels like much less of a collaboration, and I suspect that the fact that it’s in a much larger venue (Madison Square Garden) plays a role. Gail Ann Dorsey is more restrained, but I also think it’s interesting to watch the difference in Bowie’s performance. In the MSG video, Bowie looks much more conscious of continuing to be aware of and play to the crowd the entire time. In the moments on the two videos when you can watch Bowie while’s he’s off the mic, in the first one he appears to be listening to Gail Ann Dorsey, while in the second one he looks more like he’s still orchestrating the performance and the center of attention even while he isn’t singing, and it’s harder for Gail Ann Dorsey to create a space for herself in that circumstance. I think that’s a good example of what I was describing in the beginning of David Bowie’s sense of precision getting in the way of spontaneity. It isn’t a bad performance, but it’s not as good.

That said, if you want another example of them looking comfortable performing together I thought this video was very sweet.

Pure

Living Room Songs — Track 12: Leather Britches by Wayne Henderson from Made And Played.

I’ve mentioned Wayne Henderson once before, and I will recommend this album to anybody who thinks they might be interested. There are a couple of things that impress me about Wayne’s playing. The first is that it’s so relaxed, there is never any sense of effort impeding the sound. Secondly, an related, he can play quickly without being rushed. This track doesn’t particularly show off that aspect of his playing, but it sounds like he can fit as many notes as he wants in a line, without any of them being cramped. There’s always plenty of time for each note, however short, to be complete, fully formed, and precise. Finally, his sound is so clean and pure.

As the title of the album implies (and the associated book explains) Wayne Henderson is famous for his ability as a guitar builder, and is playing a guitar that he made. I don’t know whether to give more credit to his ability as a craftsman or a musician for the tone, but listening to it, it seems impossible to imagine that this sound could be in anyway something other than exactly what he wants.

Nothing more to say, really, except that the whole album is that good, and worth getting a copy of.

Living Room Songs — track 11 “Memory Of Your Smile” by Mike Seeger, Dave Grisman, & Maria Muldaur from Hills of Home

I’ve been hesitating somewhat about writing about this track because I have a certain ambivalence about it. One one hand it’s a very good song — very good spirited with lively playing, good singing, and a sense that everyone involved is having fun. On the other hand this is one of the songs that barely made the cut for this compilation, and that fact both makes me more conscious of the ways in which it doesn’t quite fit and is an interesting illustration of the selection that goes into a compilation like this.

A bit of background, the song is originally from the album Third Annual Farewell Reunion in which Mike Seeger works with different musicians on every track. AMG says, of this album, “The diversity at work in this collection is an impressive testament to the depth of America’s folk music, and the cohesive, seamless flow of the sequencing is also a testament to Seeger’s ability to see the full field as an acoustic musician. To his credit, nothing here is treated like a museum piece, and each track is allowed a chance at a living, breathing vitality.” In keeping with that description of the album, I think that one of the important virtues of the performance is how friendly and genuinely collaborative the song is.

The first thing to notice about the track is Maria Muldaur’s vocals, and how much fun she has really digging into a line like, “I wandered from one bar to another . . .” The second thing is the way that she steps back (about 1 minute in) to allow Mike and Dave to play together.

As for why I hesitated to include it, my first reason was that I worried that Muldaur’s singing had too much of a blues feel. I wanted to avoid traditional music which was directly related to the blues because I feel like that’s a style with which most people are already familiar, and I wanted to highlight a specific and different genre of traditional music. I don’t know whether anybody other than me would care about that distinction in regards to this compilation. My other reason for concern was that I didn’t think this track exhibited any unique virtues, it isn’t exceptional in the quality of the recording, the intimacy of the performance, or the imagination of the instrumental improvisation (if you compare this track to the Stacey Phillips/Paul Howard track, for example, the playing isn’t even close to as good). It’s solidly good in all of those areas, but it isn’t exceptional.

Ultimately I included it because I did find that it got stuck in my head after I listened to it, and I wanted to emphasize the catchy side of traditional music.

But it makes me reflect on my specific approach to mix-making, which is to try to make, as best I can, a statement about the styles of music that I’m working with. I do have a bias towards selections which exhibit a specific excellence, and I feel like in some ways that’s limiting and that I would improve as a maker of compilations if I worried less about that. In many ways I find the same dynamic at work writing this blog. It’s easy for me to write about music which I consider to be superb (which is a lot of music), but I’m never quite sure how to write about songs that are just fun, and that I want to share — other than saying just that. So there are a large number of songs that I would like to share, at some point, that I don’t post because I’m trying to find an angle from which I can find unique virtues to highlight.

Incidentally, some of you may recognize that this track is off of the same collection as Sweet Lucy.

As a second incidental note, I have to say that, on this particular track, there is a noticeable loss of sound quality in the conversion to .mp3.

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